On Fathers

Today’s dad is supposed to be cool, smart, tough, and sensitive, a tall order even for a superhero. There’s so much material out there that’s supposed to show us what a perfect dad is supposed to be like, our own fathers couldn’t possibly measure up. How could one ever stop comparing the real with the ideal?

In this day and age it has become easier to start discounting the role of the father. More and more, it has become easier to accept that dad no longer has the final say, or is not the sole breadwinner anymore, or that he has lost the exclusive rights to sitting at the head of the table. And some folks would say that that’s progress. Now that the modern world is no longer supposed to discriminate against age, gender, or civil status, being a man who has fathered children may not be something that is as celebrated or honored as before. Dads just don’t get as many breaks as they used to.

But in this brave new world, with its level playing fields and broken glass ceilings, dad still manages to get by. Despite the change in rules, dads still come fortified with the same equipment. Compared to bachelors, fathers arguably posses a deeper reserve of what we might call “man-strength”. This is the strength that comes from being prepared to risk everything for the safety of his wife and children. Even if it takes him away from his home or his comfort zone, and makes him a slave or a fool, there’s an urgency, a driving force within every man that makes him strive to provide for his family. It’s what urges him to fix the car or deal with the plumbing, what makes him want a better life for you than what he had for himself. For sure, the world has its fair share of deadbeats, but as far as most families are concerned, their dad will always try to be a guiding hand, a solid pillar to lean on, the man who is always thinking of their comfort, but also keeps trying to push their limits.

Regarding fathers, there seems to be an imbalance in the entertainment world. On TV, there’s an overload of sitcoms focusing on wacky dads, single dads, or wacky single dads. In animated films, whether produced by Disney or others, the protagonists generally have a bumbling but doting father figure present. The wealthy and attractive widower or divorcee has been a staple character from “The Sound of Music” to “Who Wants To Marry My Dad?”. Moms aren’t quite as well represented. Which is maybe why Mother’s Day is an exponentially bigger deal, commerce-wise. It’s the world’s way of making up to mom. Father’s day is almost like an afterthought.

So what should we do to honor 21st century dad? Stereotypes aside, most dads prefer being really low-key about and wouldn’t mind having Father’s day as a completely understated affair. So they’d expect less flowers and more socks, less cake and more scotch, less kisses and more handshakes. But it doesn’t really matter what you give, but what you share. It doesn’t take a card or a present, words and touch work just as well. Just this once, you should forgive and forget his silly and embarrassing moments. He’s your father, the guy who had to court your mom and confront your grandparents, so he has a right to be sappy and corny, and for at least one day you should be too. Every man could use a hug and a compliment – your brother, your friend, and maybe even the Pope. As long as you put in a lot of warmth, and a lot of love, just a hug will make your dad feel like the most important man in the world.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in 2005

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Heaven For Little Girls

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

Cheerful but comfortable, fun but functional, the rooms of the young Abalos girls show how kids can make a space their own.

It has been said that all little girls are princesses. However, Charlene and Corinne Abalos, grandchildren of former mayor Banjamin Abalos, and daughters of former mayor and current congressman Benhur Abalos, can easily lay claim to being Mandaluyong royalty. But it’s not like they’re putting on airs. On the contrary, the kids are good-natured, chatty, and fresh-faced, full to the brim with energy and ideas. During the recent holiday season, the girls were bubbling over with excitement planning the Christmas party for the family and household staff, and organizing the Kris Kringle exchange gift logistics. It turns out that the Abalos girls are not only budding event organizers, but promising interior designers as well.

Charlene and Corinne can actually take the credit for much of the conceptualization of their rooms’ interiors. Their mom, Mrs. Menchie Abalos, gave them both free reign to think of how they wanted their rooms to look like. With the guidance of their Tita Myla Tirado, who also helped design the rooms of their other siblings, they were able to realize many of their whimsical decorating ideas. Left to their own creative devices, the girls came up with a cozy combo of Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each room is a little girl’s personal dreamspace, a tribute to a child’s imagination, a special playground for kids and by kids. They’re best described in the words of their visiting friends, who say that once you’re in Charlene and Corinne’s rooms, you never want to leave. The rooms glow with bright hues and quirky patterns. Wooden molding and shelves in pastel colors accent the walls of warm cream. As an added fanciful detail, flowers have been delicately hand-stencilled onto every wall, geraniums for Charlene, lilacs for Corinne. Most of the furniture has been made to order, from the uniquely shaped beds to the plush chairs with the fuzzy upholstery. Continuing with the floral motif, the mantelpieces, armoires, and side tables displaying the girls’ assorted knick-knacks follow a scalloped petal outline. While in Charlene’s room, a gigantic exotic pink blossom holds up her entertainment system, its counterpart in Corinne’s room is a large dollhouse of salmon and peach, within which resides a clique of Bratz dolls. Not one to be outdone, since Corinne had her dollhouse, Charlene asked for a vanity table in the shape of a castle complete with towers from which hang her school medals. But what the kids are really proud of though are their specially-made, one-of-a-kind beds. If there was one thing that Charlene had her heart set on once she started planning her room, it was a heart-shaped bed. Her Tita Myla was able to oblige her and then some, creating a curved headboard covered in velvet, and having the mattress custom-cut out of Uratex foam to the desired specifications. For Corinne, she put together a shooting star with a rainbow tail, finishing off with flower-shaped mattress and base. Lying down on these elaborate confections, sweet dreams are guaranteed. As a convenient space-saver, full-length mirrors double as sliding doors for the girls’ wardrobes.

Scattered neatly around the premises are an assortment of stuffed toys, memorabilia, and play figures. Disney princesses and M&M candies for Charlene, Spongebob Squarepants and furry animals for Corinne. Charlene is also an accomplished golfer. She was introduced to the sport by her grandfather, an avid linksman himself. Her room displays a trophy and a few framed articles and pictures showing her enthusiasm for the game.

Eventually the kids might begin to opt for more sophisticated designs for their quarters, maybe something similar to their elder sisters’ tastes. But for now, Mrs. Abalos isn’t at all worried about the kids out-growing their rooms’ décor yet, not when she sees how much they’re enjoying themselves. At their age, there’s still a lot of time for play and toys. The fun has just begun for Charlene and Corinne, and they’ve clearly got the rooms to grow.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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